I heard of a priest who will mix glitter with the ashes he will place on children’s foreheads tomorrow.
As we present ourselves for daubing on Ash Wednesday, the traditional launch of the 40 day period of fasting and self-reflection leading to Holy Week and Easter, we may well ask, “What glitters in those ashes?” We are accustomed to Lent as a period of self-denial, some taking it to the extremes of self-flagellation, either metaphorically or literally.
But maybe there’s gold in them thar ashes that confront us with our mortality as we hear the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (as if that’s the whole story!)
Author Alexander Shaia reminds us that the ancient rite marked a more inclusive journey, beyond the 40 days from Lent to Holy Week and Good Friday, but 100 days from Transfiguration (last Sunday) to Pentecost. Yes, we are mortal, but we also bear the stamp of that which is eternal. Our story embraces not just the hardship of the journey to Calvary, but the anticipation that begins with an incomprehensible hint of glory and travels through chaos, opposition, death, resurrection and flooding of the Holy Spirit that marks us all as sons and daughters of the Highest. That’s what glitters in those ashes!
We see it in next Sunday’s account of the testing of Jesus in the wilderness.
The temptations are the short term fixes of the world of ashes. Jesus responds from the viewpoint of the realm of the Holy One, to which service the teller of Luke’s gospel summonses us all.
There’s gold in those ashes!